WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday claimed President Biden didn’t ask Chinese President Xi Jinping about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s killed 766,000 Americans because Xi already knows he wants transparency on that topic.
“The president’s push for the Chinese to be — participate more, provide more transparent data and information, we’ve never held back on that front. We’ve argued for it publicly. We’ve argued for it at every level. And the president did talk in his meeting about the importance of transparency, which is — this is exactly an example of,” Psaki said at a press briefing.
Still, Biden on Monday raised more than a dozen other topics with Xi during a 3 1/2-hour virtual summit — despite his stance already being well known on most of those issues.
Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy pressed Psaki, “But did he ask President Xi to cooperate specifically with this US intel agency-led investigation into the origins of COVID?”
Psaki deflected, “It’s clear that that’s what we want. That’s what we’ve been pressing on. I don’t have any more to read out for you from the meeting.”
But Doocy said, “Is it clear to somebody who has a Zoom meeting with the president that that’s what he means if that’s not what he says?”
Psaki responded, before moving on: “I think the president has spoken publicly on this a number of times. Our national security officials have conveyed very clearly — I don’t think it’s a secret that’s what we want, that’s we’ve been pressing for.”
Last week, Biden turned and walked away after listening to a question from The Post about pressing China to be transparent on the origins of the virus.
Biden rarely presses for COVID-19 transparency from China. And it’s unclear if he’s said anything on the topic since a written statement attributed to him was released in August, saying, “The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them. Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world. Pandemics do not respect international borders, and we all must better understand how COVID-19 came to be in order to prevent further pandemics.”
US spy agencies in August assessed that it’s “plausible” the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which specializes in the study of coronaviruses.
A White House release after the Biden-Xi virtual summit said the men discussed many topics where Biden’s position is firmly established, such as global warming.
An initial White House readout said the leaders discussed trade, human rights, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” “health security,” “the climate crisis,” “global energy supplies” and the “freedom of navigation and safe overflight.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan later said the leaders also discussed territorial disputes in the South China Sea and “counter-narcotics” issues.
The so-called “lab leak” theory gained momentum in May when the Wall Street Journal reported that three workers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalized in November 2019 ahead of public confirmation of the outbreak.
Documents published in September by The Intercept revealed that US health officials indirectly funded research at the Wuhan lab that sought to better understand viruses by manipulating them — including modifying three bat coronaviruses distinct from COVID-19 and discovering they became much more infectious among “humanized” mice when human-type receptors were added to them. The documents boosted a theory that “gain of function” research may have caused the pandemic.
The other leading theory is that the virus emerged naturally from animals, but China has refused to cooperate with an independent investigation led by the World Health Organization, which led a cursory and widely-panned initial review that was controlled by China and said the virus likely emerged naturally.
Democrats broadly have downplayed China’s role in the pandemic and blasted former President Donald Trump for calling it “the China virus.” Psaki said in March, “calling COVID the ‘Wuhan virus’ or other things — led to perceptions of the Asian American community that are inaccurate [and] unfair.”
Psaki said in August that Biden does not support Trump’s demand that China pay $10 trillion in reparations for allowing the virus to spread by concealing early data about the outbreak.
Biden convened the Xi summit despite reports that his son Hunter Biden still owns a 10 percent stake in a Chinese investment firm that’s controlled by state-owned entities. The company, BHR Partners, was formed 12 days after Hunter joined his father aboard Air Force Two for a 2013 trip to Beijing.
Biden said in December that members of his family would not hold any business role that conflicts with “or appears to be in conflict” with his job as president, but the White House has repeatedly said the first son is still working to “unwind” his Chinese holdings.